Uefa favours Ireland joint bid for Euro 2028 as 2030 World Cup hopes 'over'

European football’s governing body may look to encourage joint Ireland and UK bid to focus on Euro 2028, as it favours Spain-Portugal bid for World Cup
Uefa favours Ireland joint bid for Euro 2028 as 2030 World Cup hopes 'over'

NICE CONSOLATION: While hopes of part-hosting the 2030 World Cup are fading, the Aviva Stadium could be one of the finals venues for Euro 2028. Picture: Seb Daly/Sportsfile

Uefa favours a Spain-Portugal World Cup 2030 bid ahead of a tender by Ireland, Northern Ireland, England, Scotland, and Wales, it has emerged.

European football’s governing body is set to try to encourage the joint Ireland and UK bid to focus instead on Euro 2028, which Europe’s governing body would fully support if the home nations agree to stand down, the Irish Examiner understands.

Sources in the Government and Uefa have revealed that a Spain-Portugal bid on behalf of Europe has “the only realistic chance of winning at Fifa” with the co-UK and Ireland bid momentum dwindling.

Uefa is also extremely cautious of demonstrating any disunity as it battles Fifa over the world governing body’s proposals to host a World Cup every two years, something which the European football union is set against.

An unofficial proposal to have a 2028 Euros in Britain and Ireland offers a considerable compensation and merit for Ireland, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland.

However it is not known what England’s response will be, as the lead nation in the World Cup bidding process and as the chief architect of the plan to bring the competition to these islands, 64 years after it last hosted the tournament.

It is likely the English FA will not see the co-hosting of another Euros as anything resembling the prestige of a World Cup, especially given the high profile it has already received for the project, with the likes of prime minister Boris Johnson declaring his full support to the plan.

For Ireland, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland the blow will not be as severe with the idea of hosting a European championships a far greater gift than simply advancing from one process to another one in front of Fifa.

Ireland will be eager to put the misery of Euro 2020 behind them, when they became the only country to pull out as a co-host of 12 nations due to Covid restrictions.

Uefa hopes that by giving certainty now to the nations battling for nomination for the Fifa round of World Cup bidding, it will prevent a lengthy and expensive process which will take up valuable time and resources for the three bids which are currently active.

Along with the Ireland and the UK and the Spain-Portugal proposals, a third proposal featuring a group of Balkans countries — Bulgaria, Greece, Romania, and Serbia were also considering entering a bid next year.

A fourth tender, and one which may not even be legal under Uefa’s rules, has been speculated as a co-hosting by Italy and Saudi Arabia — which of course is not a member of Uefa. It is not known when Uefa or the home countries will confirm the Spain-Portugal plan with high level discussions at an early phase.

Currently the Irish and UK bid is undergoing a feasibility study, along with each country’s stakeholder partners including Government and Department of Sport.

One snag is with Northern Ireland where it national stadium has a capacity of 18,500, and may not pass Fifa sanction to host World Cup matches, despite it hosting a limited capacity Uefa Super Cup between Chelsea and Villareal in August.

In recent days word reached high levels of the Department of Sport that “the UK and Ireland bid was effectively over before it began”, with Spain and Portugal enjoying the greatest affection of the key influencers at Uefa HQ.

“It’s accepted that this isn’t going to happen and the sooner that message is delivered the better,” said a political insider. “I’m not sure it was ever that realistic once Spain and Portugal had declared their intent to host the competition, and for many reasons, not least geography and easy access between the two countries, this one makes more sense.

Uefa and the British and Irish national associations are not expected to officially accept that the bidding process is effectively over due to the fact that any decision on hosting proposals must be proposed and ratified by Uefa’s Executive Committee (ExCo) and its 55 member federations.

A key reason why Uefa will ask the home countries to back down is that many in Nyon do not believe that the tender has a chance in gaining much traction or votes across Europe. Part of that reason can be put down to the troubling scenes at the Wembley final of Euro 2020 when hundreds of drunken fans broke into the stadium for the final, robbing seats from ticket-paying supporters in images that went across the world.

Portugal and Spain is likely to be ratified before next March, the same time the bidding process for the Euro 2028 bids are tendered with the European body.

It is hoped that by the time the decision comes to confirm the Euro 2028 hosts the UK Police and the FA will have issued plausible findings and recoveries from the various investigations into Wembley.

Uefa is most unlikely to give an indication that it favours a British-Irish bid to host Euro 2028 until all tenders are submitted and the first phase of the process is complete next March.

The outcome of a Spain-Portugal World Cup proposal will be known in 2024 when Fifa’s 211 members vote to select the hosts of the tournament.

China looks like a front-runner but faces stiff competition from Uruguay-Argentina-Chile-Paraguay, and now from a Portugal-Spain alliance. Uefa did not respond to queries from the Irish Examiner.

However, the FAI did issue a brief response, saying: “We remain committed to the ongoing feasibility study in regard to a potential bid for the 2030 World Cup alongside our fellow associations in England, Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland.”

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